Make your own free website on Tripod.com

CARIBBEAN KISS
Edwin P. Cutler
Chapter 1



     "Come and help me, Stacy. The Romarin's coming in and something's wrong!" Henry Bouchard shouted and trotted down to the dock, his mane of white hair waving in the wind.
     Stacy Biddle dropped the coil of rope from his shoulder and wondering at the calamity followed in his boss' wake.
     Brooks, the black man who tended the old sailboat with pride, came running and Stacy asked, "What's the matter?"
     "Don' know. Mr. Bouchard saw de boat come round the headland wid one person on board. Thought it was Franklin Ruddings, but he say de hat blew off and it was Amanda, Franklin's wife and she look to be all alone."
     As they jogged out the dock the three men watched helplessly as the old boat chugged toward them, a relentless, determined homecoming.
     "Put it in reverse!" Henry shouted and waved his hands frantically. But the young woman at the helm killed the old diesel engine and the boat came charging toward them.
     They had left to go sailing before Stacy, just out of college, came to work, so he had not met the owner or his wife. He was dumbstruck when he saw her. "She's so young! I thought she must be an older woman, maybe even a grandmother."
     "Fend her off, fend her off!" Hank bellowed, and the three men grabbed pulpits, lifelines, and shrouds heaving at the boat to slow it down. But twelve tons is hard to slow, much less stop, and the old boat ground its way along the dock with rubrails smoking and wharf piles groaning until they finally brought its wild charge to a halt.
     "Hold her off." Hank yelled. "I'll get the dock lines."
     He jumped on board and, with a glance at what looked to be bloodstains on the foredeck, opened a hatch and pulled out some ropes. Tossing two to the waiting men, he left them to tie the boat to the dock and turned to the girl who sat at the helm, her white knuckled hands gripping the wooden spokes.
     "Amanda?" he breathed wondering at her mesmerized stare.
     With a gush of tears she grabbed him and hugged herself into his protective arms.
     "Amanda, where's Franklin?" He looked down the companionway expecting her husband, the owner of Island Life Resorts, to appear.
     "He's gone..." she wailed and clung tighter to her surrogate father.
     "Where did he go?" Hank knew Franklin liked to travel.
     "They... they ate him!" she blubbered.
     "Ate? Who ate what? You aren't making sense." Hank tried to lift her face to see into her eyes.
     "The sharks ate him," she wailed. "He fell in... I tried to save him."
     "Franklin fell overboard?" Hank was incredulous.
     "They were tearing at him." She cried out, "They grabbed his arms and legs and wagged their heads."
     "Amanda! Calm down." He tried.
     "Hank, they... they were so quick, there was no time to help him. When his screams faded, I knew it was over."
     "Sharks don't usually bother unless there's blood from a hooked fish or a wound," Henry tried to explain.
     She choked a sob. "He was forward, before the mast, shooting at porpoises that ride the bow waves."
     "People don't shoot porpoises."
     "He shot one several times and sharks gathered around the boat at the smell of blood. He shouted back to me, `I've started a feeding frenzy! The bloody sharks are tearing the porpoise to shreds!'"
     "Damn," Henry cursed.
     "Franklin yelled, `Once sharks get the smell of blood, they'll eat anything.'"
     She tried to wipe the tears from her eyes.
     "He was dancing around like a happy kid. But he must have tripped on something. I saw him fall and before I could get up there to help him, he slipped under the lifeline and dropped into the sea."
     "Overboard?" Henry Bouchard muttered the word every seaman dreads to hear.
     "I threw cushions and stuff over the side, but they were after him. He was in the water with the sharks, yelling for help. As the boat sailed past, I heard him screaming."
     "You poor girl," Hank said and reached to take her into his arms.
     "He... since we were married...." She cuddled close as if seeking protection.
     When her voice faded to a whisper, Stacy, gripped by her story, moved closer and heard her whimper, "Since we were married, I have seen him take a wanton pleasure in teasing animals into frenzies."
     Clinging to Hank, she muffled her sobs in his soft shirt. "I called for help on the VHF, but there was no one in radio range. We must have been too far from the islands. No one answered. I was alone on an empty sea. In every direction the ocean stretched to the edge of the earth."
     "You went back to be sure?" Hank asked, knowing it was useless.
     "I tried to do what you taught me. I started the engine and motor-sailed upwind, zigzagged back and forth, back and forth, like you taught me to look for him." She moaned and shuddered as if chilled. "But I'd seen the sharks, and after hours of searching it grew dark, so I turned off the engine and hove-to, left the Romarin to take care of herself and went below to wait until morning to look again.
     "But his frantic calls for help kept ringing in my ears and waves slapped at the hull as if his ghost was trying to climb back in the boat. Finally, I got up and looked around with a spot light. There was nothing, so I sat in the dark watching the stars turn slowly in the sky. Hank, the night's forever when you're out there alone.
     "In the morning, when I was certain he was gone, that there couldn't possibly be a body floating in that lonely sea, I said a prayer for him and, letting the sails fill, started home -- alone."
     Antoinette, the Italian woman who supervised the waitresses and had assumed the role of surrogate mother to the Island Life mistress, came trotting down the dock. The coils of her black ringlets framed her face, her worried expression already perceiving a tragedy.
     "Is everything all right?" she asked, climbing aboard, and, as Hank had done, looked down the companionway and asked, "Where's Mr. Ruddings?"
     Hank put a hand on her arm and tugged her to a seat beside Amanda. "Annie, Franklin fell overboard. He was lost at sea."
     "You mean Franklin Ruddings is dead?!" The sensitive woman contorted and climbing the cockpit coaming threw up into the quiet waters of the lagoon.
     Provoked by Annie's anguish, Amanda's sobs became a desperate plea that sent a chill up Stacy's spine.
     To Stacy she sounded more desperate than bereaved when she wailed, "Oh, Hank, Franklin's gone! What'll I do? What'll I do?" Her cries were as if she had lost more than a loved one, had lost someone she needed for her very existence.
     Henry Bouchard, knowing there was no way to bring the man back, looked to Brooks and Stacy and echoed, "What.... what can we do?"
     Brooks shrugged and walked to a far pier where he looked down into the water with unseeing eyes.
     Stacy bit his lip to stem a flood of emotion. He braced his shoulders and offered, "Why don't we take the ladies up to Mrs. Ruddings apartment?"
     "Yes. Yes, of course." Henry, given a plan of action, came alive. "Annie, see she gets a hot bath and some warm soup."
     "Mrs. Ruddings, my name is Stacy Biddle." He offered his hand. "Let me help you ashore."
     "Who? Oh, thank you, Mr. Biddle." She fastened her fingers to his hand in a vice-like grip and let him help her over the lifeline to the dock.
     No, Stacy assured himself, she is not a grandmother. She must be about the same age as Melissa, the teller who opened my account at the bank.
     Still holding her hand, Stacy led the lady he had heard called The Island Life Princess up the path bordered by banks of roses, the Primrose Path, that climbs the hillside of terraced flower gardens bursting with an abundance of blossoms, unaware their master was to walk this way no more.
     As the little procession worked its way up the hill, Richard Wronkle stepped out onto the veranda and looked down into the lagoon. Watching them lead Amanda up the hill, he gloated, "Franklin's little lush."
     Like most beneficents who are given something to help them along, he hated his cousin Franklin, the man who rescued him from the police in England and gave him a job when he was destitute. Franklin possessed the money, esteem, power and, of course, the beautiful woman -- all those things that from his deprived youth, Wronkle had craved.
     Musing in perfidious greed, he thought again, Franklin doesn't know how to wring the most money from the tourists, and he even lets the local islanders profit from Island Life. If I had my way, we'd expand, double or triple our profits. At least I got him to let me put the fence up to keep the damn locals off our beach unless they actually work here.
     Seeing them step from the flowered path onto the clubhouse terrace, he hissed, "Mr. Henry Bouchard, uselessly naive and idealistic, has taken Amanda under his wing. You'd think she was his own daughter, the way he tries to protect her and covers up when she misbehaves."
     Antoinette waved to Hank and Stacy indicating everything would be taken care of and led Amanda along the terrace that overlooked the sea. When they disappeared into Franklin's apartment at the far end of the clubhouse, Henry walked to the balustrade and gazed sadly out over the blue waters of the Caribbean.
     Wronkle, his curiosity piqued, stepped after him and asked, "Where's Franklin?"
     Henry choked. "Richard, I'm afraid your cousin fell overboard. He was lost at sea."
     "Lost at sea? You mean he's dead?"
     "Yes, Franklin Ruddings is no more."
     As the tradewinds carried his words away, Henry's thoughts returned to the tragedy that had taken place out there beyond the curve of the earth. With Franklin gone, he wondered what was to become of Island Life. Even though it surely belonged to Amanda now, Henry had always thought of her as outside the business. As wife of the owner, she had never been required to demonstrate responsibility. And now with her drinking, he knew she didn't have the fortitude and stamina to keep a thriving organization like Island Life going.
     "But who will take the helm and run this place?" he asked the unforgiving sea.
     The first person that came to mind was standing close behind him, Richard Wronkle, the cousin Franklin hired to run the resort side of the business. The revolting idea gave Henry a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. In less than a year Wronkle had given the resort a bad name by precipitating a scandal that sent salacious rumors leaping from the pages of newspapers in the United States.
     "Stacy, did you say your college degree was in Mechanical Engineering?"
     "Yes sir, with a minor in business administration."
     "How would you like a permanent job here?"
     "I'd love it. But I promised my parents I'd only be gone a year, then I'd go back to New England and get a job with an engineering company."
     "Only a year, you say." Henry Bouchard once again looked out over the Caribbean, but this time he smiled.
    
If you want to be notified when Caribbean Kiss is published, send an email to spaceship79@hotmail.com

Click here to return to the top

Click here to return to Preview

Click here to return to Novels Index